Bharat Kala Bhavan is one of the oldest museums in the country whose chairperson was Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore himself. It has contributions from various known literary figures of the country. The museum is housed on the beautiful Banaras Hindu University campus. The yellow and red buildings reminded me of the Patna Museum at first sight. Visiting this museum was one of the key agendas on my Varanasi trip having read about the Sarnath School of Sculpture.
We were interested in looking at the carvings firsthand. And we assumed that we would find quite a few of them in this museum.
Bharat Kala Bhavan – Museum in Varanasi
Collection of Hand Written Notes & News Papers
The first gallery that we saw as we entered the museum was a collection of handwritten notes by leaders of the Indian independence movement. And of-course other literary figures at the same time, along with an exhibition of newspapers and magazines of that era. Now, this is something I have not seen in any other museum in India. It was a delight to see those handwritings of the stalwarts of our nation’s independence movement. It is the closest you can get to these figures/personalities of historical importance. Imagine Nityanand’s Holi in Khadi Boli, Shahidon Ke Geet by Sumitranandan Pant, Amar Woh Vyakti by Neeraj, and writings of Ramkumar Verma, Ambika Prasad Vajpai, Kishoridas Vajpai, etc.
Periodicals & Books
There are periodicals like Bharat, Karamvir, Saaptahik Bharat, Jagran, Hans, and Sansar. There were old prints of books like Munshi Prem Chand’s Godan and books from the Kedia collection like History of Rajputana and Jayasi Granthavali. For me, this was the most outstanding part of this museum.
Banaras Gallery at Bharat Kala Bhavan
Banaras Gallery is another gallery that you should not miss in this museum. I loved the collection of masks and jewelry that is used during the famous Ram Leela festivities of the city and other fairs that occur throughout the year. There is a map of Banaras on cotton cloth that depicts the Panchkroshi Yatra’s path, along with all the pilgrim places that fall on this route. I wish I could get a copy of that map as a souvenir.
Precious Art Works
There is a safe room that is open only for a limited period. This houses some precious artworks like Jade bowls, necklaces with miniature Srinathji paintings embedded in them, Jadau Kangan, gold coins, and engraved hookah bases amongst other things. There is a display of musical instruments made in silver. Though I could not make out if they were really played or if they are meant only to be mementos.
There are other galleries like an archeological gallery, miniature paintings, textiles, terracotta, decorative art, and numismatics spread across the two floors that are good to see. Among the terracotta figures, a Shiva’s head stands out as a unique piece. There are galleries by ex-pat artists who chose Banaras as their muse. You can buy the publications of the museum at the bookshop.
Documentation of the museum can be much better as there is no other way to understand the displays. The lighting is very poor. Forget about taking good pictures, half the time reflections do not allow you to see the artifacts with the naked eye as well. The staff can be polite. But then being Banarasi that may not come naturally, the Akhadpan is part of the place.
Recommend you read the following travel blog posts on places to visit in Varanasi.